Actor Michael Welch knows a lot about zombies, having faced them in The Demented, Day of the Dead and Hansel & Gretel Get Baked. Now, he’s going another round with the walking dead in Syfy’s Z Nation.
The post-apocalyptic drama series takes place in a world where a mysterious virus has transformed most humans into zombies. One possible cure lies in Murphy, a man injected with an experimental drug that’s somehow kept him alive after multiple zombie bites. It’s up to a group of ordinary citizens, including Welch’s Mack, to get him from New York to a lab in California, where his blood can be tested and used to create an antidote.
The only things standing in their way are hordes of zombies and pockets of deranged humans.
Welch, best known for his roles in Joan of Arcadia and The Twilight Saga, spoke with Spinoff Online about fighting zombies in Z Nation, his character Mack and young love.
Spinoff Online: You’ve been exposed to zombies before. What’s so scary about these kinds of ghouls?
Michael Welch: Yeah, I’ve worked with zombies a lot over the years. I’m a huge zombie fan, and always have been. It’s not the zombies themselves that really matter to me. I just think it’s interesting to watch human beings react to a world where society has been stripped away. Then we really get to see who human beings are, what we’re capable of and what really matters to us at our core. That’s when you reveal your true character, when the shit hits the fan, and you see what you’re made of. Zombies are just a way to get to that world.
As for the zombies themselves, I think the idea of a mindless creature whose sole purpose in life is to eat your flesh is an inherently scary thing for someone to be dealing with.
Regardless of the project, everyone has a spin on zombies. How do the Z Nation variety differ from the ones you’ve previously encountered?
Our zombies, for the most part, stick to the George Romero rules. Some of our zombies are fast and some are slow. That really has to do with how recently they’ve been turned. The longer a zombie has been turned, the more it’s deteriorating over time. That reflects on how fast it moves, its agility and its strength.
Also, there’s different takes on how a virus like this can spread. In our show, there are a lot of different theories that arise throughout the season. I personally think it happened through the birds. It was kind of like a bird flu and spread that way.
One of the main differences between our series and recent zombie shows has to do with the overall tone of the show and the pacing of it. This is a fast-paced, action-adventure show. It’s scary, it’s funny and it’s adventure time. Frankly, I think there’s room for all of us. We’re just approaching it in a unique way.
How would you describe your character Mack, and what does he add to this group?
Mack is someone who was an athlete in college. He’s genetically predisposed to be able to survive a situation like this. Mentally, he has what I would consider to be “the clutch gene.” In high-pressure situations, when other peoples’ heart rate and blood pressure would rise, his would fall. He’s able to see things more slowly and clearly. He’s able to assess the situation and determine what to do — and act. He’s a smart, capable guy.
The main thing he adds to the show is his love story. The story between Mack and Addy develops really nicely throughout the course of the first season. These two met the first night of the apocalypse and they’ve been together ever since. They really don’t know how to survive without each other. They’ve never had to be on their own. They’ve always had each other. So, Mack is not flashy. He’s all business. At this point, he’s an eighth-degree black belt when it comes to killing zombies. His level of awareness is through the roof.
He’s a man of few words, but when it comes to protecting Addy, he becomes a guerilla. You see these bursts of anger throughout the season. He’s the volcano of the group. He’s a hothead. He could explode at any moment and, when he does, it usually has to do with protecting Addy.
Mack and the band of survivors are escorting Murphy across the country. Does Mack believe in the cause, or is there just safety in numbers?
I’ll just say this: In Mack’s world, the only thing that matters is Addy. I don’t think Mack has a lot of hope this world is going to go back to the way it was. He’s very pragmatic and realistic. Addy is more of a pie-in-the-sky thinker. She’s holding on to a lot of hope for humanity. Mack is going along with it because Addy wants to and it’s given her a sense of purpose, drive and hope. I don’t think Mack believes this is a realistic mission.
What are Mack’s thoughts on Murphy, especially once he starts becoming more zombie-like?
Murphy is a guy who is really obnoxious. He doesn’t come across as a particularly good guy. He’s not the kind of guy you really want to risk your life to protect. More than that, as far as Mack is concerned, is Murphy’s a liability. Murphy doesn’t really have the tools to protect himself, so that burden falls on us. At this point, survival is such a delicate thing in this world. Any sort of additional struggle you are going to throw on top of us, Mack is going to be totally against it. I don’t think Mack likes Murphy at all.
Are you happy being a gunslinger on Z Nation, or would you prefer Mack to wield a flashier weapon?
No, I’m actually very happy how Mack turned out on the show. It’s important to have those characters that are not flashy and all business and right to the point. Everything is about practicality. What am I going to have easy access to and that’s going to be accurate and is going to be able to get the job done as quickly as possible? As cool as the Z-Whacker is and the machetes, I’m very happy with Mack to just have his .22 and the pistol.
What else can we expect from Mack and the series in upcoming weeks?
The first episode propels us into a real interesting direction. It gives us our overall mission for the season. Within that, week-to-week, we’re going to have these mini-missions we’re going to go through. Peppered in through all of that, you’re going to learn more and more about these characters, like where we come from, who we really are and who we were before this thing broke out. You’ll also see the development of our relationships as the series goes along.
Lastly, with all the running around and fighting, how physically taxing was it filming this project?
It’s a physical show. There’s no question about it. We probably had stunts every single day. For the most part, I didn’t have a stunt double, which is good because you want to do most of it if you can. Don’t get me wrong. For some of the more extreme stuff, they obviously had to bring somebody in for us. It’s also the most fun I’ve ever had. I probably lost a good 10 pounds throughout the course of the four months filming. Physically, every day it was a challenge. I had to stay in shape and eat right and get enough sleep. I had to make sure I was prepared every day to go to work. It was a little more physically demanding than probably most weekly television series.
Z Nation airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.
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